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Timbuktu librarians, scholars, and citizens preserving ancient documents and Islamic heritage

On April 1, rebels overran Timbuktu, so, according to a Reuters article, librarians, scholars, and citizens in this important site of Islamic learning are hiding away thousands of irreplaceable manuscripts. “Estimates for the total number of historic documents in the city, some of them from the 13th century, range from 150,000 to five times that number,” says Pascal Fletcher, the article’s author.

In fact, citizens lined up to deny armed rebels access to the archives where 20,000 ancient manuscripts are stored.

From the article:

ome texts were stashed for generations under mud homes and in desert caves by proud Malian families who feared they would be stolen by Moroccan invaders, European explorers and then French colonialists. Now many fear the rampaging rebels, who carry AK-47s instead of muskets, lances and swords.

Brittle, written in ornate calligraphy, and ranging from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices, the documents represent a compendium of learning on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics. Some experts compare them in importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(I came across this article in the really useful aggregation site Library News, which (disclosure) comes out of our Harvard Library Innovatino Lab.)

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